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Metagame Mentor: Pioneer for the Regional Championships June 2023

June 01, 2023
Frank Karsten

Welcome to Metagame Mentor, your weekly guide to the top decks and latest Constructed developments on the path to the Pro Tour. The main way to qualify for the Pro Tour is by placing highly at a Regional Championship, and the third cycle of Regional Championships kicks off this weekend, featuring the Pioneer format!

In today's article I'll summarize key details of these events all around the world, followed by an overview of the decks to beat in Pioneer and a discussion of the hottest new deck: Boros Convoke.

Regional Championship Guide

Regional Championships are major Magic events—a focal point for play in each geographic region. They happen three times per year and are scheduled approximately one to three months before their corresponding Pro Tour. Previous cycles showed the joy of high-level paper Magic, with all the big names playing at the top tables and the excitement of win-and-ins for Pro Tours, and the upcoming third cycle should be equally exciting.

The schedule for the third cycle of Regional Championships (RCs) for the 2022–23 season is as follows:

Format: For all of these third-cycle Regional Championships, the format is Pioneer. No new sets will be added to Pioneer during this Regional Championship cycle. The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth™, which releases in the middle of June, will be legal in Modern but not in Pioneer.

Decklists: Regional Championships will use open decklists, to be submitted by competitors on MTG Melee on the day before the event starts. Exact details and timing are provided by the local organizer. Once the event gets underway, decklists will become publicly available and you can follow the standings live. To do so, check out the MTG Melee pages for each event that are linked in the schedule above. Our @PlayMTG Twitter account will also provide event updates.

Invites: Regional Championships are invitation-only events. Most of the invites stem from Regional Championship Qualifiers (RCQs) held at local stores or larger conventions in January, February, and March. On the Friday before each Regional Championship, the event hall may also hold Last Chance Qualifiers. Additional invitees include players who qualified through Magic Online or MTG Arena, top players from the 2021–22 season, members of the Hall of Fame who use their "once-per-year" invite, and players otherwise qualified for Pro Tour The Lord of the Rings. More precise details can be found here. All in all, the level of competition will be fierce, and many of the best players in each region will be in attendance.

Prizes: Besides promo cards and monetary prizes—for example, $100,000 in Europe and $130,000 in the U.S.A.—top players from each Regional Championship will qualify for Pro Tour The Lord of the Rings, to be held at MagicCon: Barcelona on July 28–30. The exact number of Pro Tour invites differs per region. For example, in this transitional season it's 36 in Europe and 48 in U.S.A. This number includes bonus qualifications that are for the 2022–23 season only. Additionally, all Regional Championship winners, as well as the runners-up from U.S.A., Japan, and Europe, will be invited to Magic World Championship XXIX, to be held at MagicCon: Las Vegas on September 22–24, 2023. All in all, these are important events, with a lot on the line.

Qualification: If you're eager to start your own competitive Magic journey, then store-level RCQs are one of the best places to start. You can find tournaments on the Store & Event Locator or your regional organizer's website. Current RCQs through August 20, 2023 will feed into the next cycle of Regional Championships, which are held from September through December in the Pioneer format.

The Pioneer Metagame

Pioneer is based on expansion sets and core sets from Return to Ravnica forward, with the most notable cards on the ban list being the fetch lands. To grasp the latest Pioneer developments, I analyzed over 500 successful decklists from competitive events over the past two weekends. Specifically, I used all published Magic Online decklists from scheduled Pioneer events held from May 19 through May 28, all MTG Melee decklists with net positive wins from the NRG Series $10K Minneapolis and the Grand Open Qualifier Valencia, and all Top 8 decklists from RCQs at Hareruya Nagoya, Hareruya Nipponbashi, Hareruya Osu, Hareruya Omiya, TC Osaka, Laughing Dragon, GriffoNest Games, and The Game Haven of Maryland. Essentially, this encompasses large Pioneer tournaments held since the emergence of Boros Convoke. The biggest one was the Grand Open Qualifier in Valencia, which drew 409 players.

To provide a metagame snapshot that combines popularity and performance, I assigned an archetype label to each deck, correcting any mislabeling on Melee, and I awarded a number of points equal to the deck's net wins, i.e., its number of match wins minus losses. For example, a deck that went 5–1 in the Swiss followed by a loss in the quarterfinals was assigned three points. The sum of these numbers for every archetype yields its record-weighted metagame share, which represents its share of total net wins. It may be interpreted as a winner's metagame that you can expect to see at the top tables.

Archetype Record-Weighted Metagame Share
1. Rakdos Midrange 19.7%
2. Mono-Green Devotion 11.8%
3. Azorius Control 7.6%
4. Abzan Greasefang 6.6%
5. Boros Convoke 6.3% ↑↑
6. Lotus Field Combo 5.9%
7. Izzet Creativity 5.8%
8. Mono-White Humans 5.6%
9. Rakdos Sacrifice 4.7%
10. Azorius Spirits 4.2%
11. Enigmatic Fires 2.4%
12. Omnath to Light 1.9%
13. Gruul Vehicles 1.8%
14. Dimir Control 1.7%
15. Izzet Phoenix 1.4%
16. Neoform Atraxa 1.2%
17. Mono-Blue Spirits 1.1%
18. Rona Combo 1.1%
19. Niv to Light 1.0%
20. Transmogrify Fires 0.8%
21. Chandra Turns 0.7%
22. Elementals 0.6%
23. Elves 0.6%
24. Orzhov Humans 0.6%
25. Mono-Black Midrange 0.5%
26. Bant Spirits 0.5%
27. Dimir Rogues 0.4% ↓↓
28. Grixis Midrange 0.4%
29. Selesnya Angels 0.4%
29. Goblins 0.4%
29. Mono-Black Discard 0.4%
29. Other 2.1%

In this table, each archetype name hyperlinks to a well-performing, representative decklist, and the arrows represent the biggest changes compared to my metagame roundup from two weeks ago. In particular, Dimir Rogues faltered and failed to put up good results despite initial excitement over Faerie Mastermind. The "Other" category includes Atarka Red, Mono-Red Aggro, Esper Control, Jund Transmogrify, Path of Mettle, Rakdos Creativity, Bant Auras, Five-Color Transmogrify, Jeskai Spirits, Boros Heroic, Mono-White Angels, Mardu Midrange, and Grixis Transmogrify. There are plenty of brews to go around.

With over 10,000 cards to choose from, Pioneer features a variety of powerful strategies, and anything can win in the hands of a skilled and experienced pilot. It's mostly a matter of finding a deck you enjoy, building familiarity with its play patterns, and knowing the matchups inside out. Like an artist who paints with a familiar brush, your mastery over your chosen deck can become a cornerstone of your success in Pioneer. Yet while familiarity breeds triumph, it is equally vital to learn the secrets of your adversaries. The second part of this article provides decklists for the top ten archetypes that currently dominate the Pioneer landscape.

Is Boros Convoke Busted?

541041 Gleeful Demolition Venerated Loxodon 599107 Reckless Bushwhacker 417819 417819

The new hotness in Pioneer is Boros Convoke, which won a Pioneer Challenge and surged to a 6.3% share of the record-weighted metagame over the past two weeks. After basically coming out of nowhere, it attracted a lot of attention due to its explosive starts. For example, the opening hand shown above can lead to a turn-three kill. Assuming no interaction from your opponent, do you see how to guarantee it?

The key to solving this puzzle is to hold Ornithopter for surge. By curving Voldaren Epicure on turn one into Gleeful Demolition on turn two, you can immediately convoke Venerated Loxodon, allowing you to pass on turn two with 12 power on the battlefield, spread across five creatures. Then on turn three, Ornithopter into Reckless Bushwhacker results in a lethal attack.

The ability to convoke on turn two is similar to what the old Hogaak decks used to do in Modern. Its combination of explosiveness and consistency ultimately resulted in Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis being banned, but I don't believe Boros Convoke is at the same level. The new Pioneer deck is powerful and exciting, especially when you mulligan aggressively in search of blisteringly fast opening hands, and it rewards sequencing skill and combat math. But it's not Hogaak. At the NRG Series $10K Minneapolis and the Grand Open Qualifier Valencia, the combined non-mirror, non-bye, non-draw match win rate of all Boros Convoke players, over a sample size of nearly 200 games, was merely 48%.

Many opponents were ready for Boros Convoke last weekend; the best answers are sweepers that exploit the deck's reliance on Gleeful Demolition. My analysis of Pioneer decklists over the past few weeks revealed that numerous anti-convoke cards have ticked up across sideboards: The Meathook Massacre, Languish, Path of Peril, End the Festivities, Cinderclasm, Radiant Flames, Temporary Lockdown, Sweltering Suns, Hidetsugu Consumes All, Illness in the Ranks, Authority of the Consuls, Golgari Charm, and Flame Sweep all surged in popularity. At the moment, it's probably worth dedicating one or two sideboard slots to such cards. Boros Convoke is a viable competitive option, but as long as other players bring sideboards that respect the deck, it's not busted.

The Decks to Beat

As a refresher, let's review the ten Pioneer decks that you may see in the largest numbers at the upcoming Regional Championships. Due to their popularity, you need to keep them at the forefront of your mind when building your deck and sideboard plans. To pinpoint typical builds, I've used a decklist aggregation algorithm that takes into account the popularity and performance of individual card choices over the past two weeks.

Fable of the Mirror-Breaker and Reckoner Bankbuster may have just been banned in Standard, but they live on in Pioneer. Rakdos Midrange holds a 19.7% share of the record-weighted metagame, so it's the clear deck to beat. Combining efficient discard, powerful removal, resilient threats, and flexible sideboard options, it can play a fair game against almost everything.

Nevertheless, Pioneer offers the tools to counter any strategy, and Rakdos Midrange can struggle against Gruul Vehicles, Rakdos Sacrifice, and Enigmatic Fires. Moreover, Rakdos Midrange hasn't gained any noteworthy new cards in 2023, whereas decks like Mono-Green Devotion and Neoform Atraxa received big boosts from the latest releases and, as a result, may hold an advantage in the matchup. As a result, I do not fear that Rakdos Midrange will dominate the Regional Championships unopposed.

Mono-Green Devotion, with an 11.8% share of the winner's metagame, is another deck to beat in Pioneer. It can use mana elves and Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx to ramp into an early Storm the Festival, and it dedicates the entire sideboard towards Karn, the Great Creator. Polukranos Reborn, one of the most important additions from March of the Machine, has replaced the flex slots that were previously taken by the likes of Lovestruck Beast. Polukranos Reborn provides three devotion, blocks fliers, and transforms into a massive lifelinker.

Azorius Control is the premier control deck in Pioneer, combining spot removal, countermagic, card draw, sweepers, and planeswalkers. There are various builds of the deck, for example using companions or Lay Down Arms. However, the most prominent build over the past two weeks is companionless and uses Temporary Lockdown instead of Lay Down Arms in the main deck. As Temporary Lockdown is one of the best possible answers to Boros Convoke, this represents one of many examples of how the metagame is adapting.

Abzan Greasefang is the premier combo deck in Pioneer. Its goal is to put Parhelion II into the graveyard on turn two and to crew it with Greasefang, Okiba Boss on turn three. As sideboard use of Leyline of the Void has ticked down in Pioneer, the strategy may be well-positioned. When many players are shaving anti-graveyard cards to make room for anti-convoke cards, decks like Abzan Greasefang can reap the benefits. Delve decks like Neoform Atraxa may take advantage of these metagame developments as well.

Boros Convoke, a synergy-driven aggro deck that can overwhelm opponents with enormous battlefields as early as turn two, reminded me of the Modern Affinity decks that I loved playing back in the days. Last weekend, I dusted off my Ornithopters and entered an RCQ, where I didn't drop a game in the Swiss before losing to eventual winner Lukas Honnay in the semifinals. I had a great time in the tournament and I liked my list, which is similar to the aggregate one shown above.

As the archetype is relatively new, there is no consensus yet on the flex slots. Personally, I like Burning-Tree Emissary because its ceiling is higher than other two-drops and it enables more explosive draws, especially in tandem with Reckless Bushwhacker. However, deck construction is a balancing act between enablers and payoffs, and it's important to retain enough big payoff cards as well. In any case, Boros Convoke is a spicy new addition to Pioneer that you need to be aware of, although I view it as just one top-tier deck among many.

Lotus Field Combo plans to find Lotus Field, get another copy via Thespian's Stage, and untap those lands with Hidden Strings and Pore Over the Pages. The March of the Machine addition of Chandra, Hope's Beacon enables a new route to victory. Suppose you control Omniscience and Chandra and have found all three Bala Ged Recovery. Then you can cast Bala Ged Recovery and copy it to pick up the other two copies from your graveyard. Next, -5 Chandra to burn your opponent. One Bala Ged Recovery returns Chandra, which is free to cast with Omniscience, and you can repeat this loop for infinite damage.

Essentially, Izzet Creativity is a control deck first and a combo deck second. Featuring a lot of cheap interactive spells, it can keep the opponent at bay in the early game before achieving victory with Indomitable Creativity on a Treasure or Goblin token. The most prominent build nowadays, which Alejandro Dupuy de Lome used to win the 409-player Grand Open Qualifier in Valencia last weekend, uses Torrential Gearhulk alongside Magma Opus.

Mono-White Humans is an aggro deck that focuses on curving out with powerful Humans, using Thalia's Lieutenant to boost them all. Coppercoat Vanguard has been an important addition from March of the Machine: The Aftermath. It grants a layer of protection to Brutal Cathar, makes the tokens created by Adeline, Resplendent Cathar twice as relevant, and adds more immediate power to the battlefield than Luminarch Aspirant.

Rakdos Sacrifice is centered around Mayhem Devil, Cauldron Familiar, and Witch's Oven. When this three-card engine is set up, your opponent will lose exactly 1 life three times per turn cycle. This means that Ob Nixilis, Captive Kingpin, a new addition from March of the Machine: The Aftermath, will be triggering constantly. Ob Nixilis, Captive Kingpin is reminiscent of Korvald, Fae-Cursed King, but it's less expensive and doesn't require a green splash, so it's a useful boost for Rakdos Sacrifice.

Azorius Spirits is the most popular home for Mausoleum Wanderer, Rattlechains, Shacklegeist, and Supreme Phantom, dipping into white for Spell Queller. Spirits decks can come in a variety of color combinations, and they traditionally have a good matchup against Mono-Green Devotion. Although Polukranos Reborn shored up that weakness somewhat, sideboard cards like Destroy Evil or Skyclave Apparition can remove the big reach blocker.

The Battles Ahead

Pioneer offers a diverse range of viable archetypes, and anything is possible. Boros Convoke, based on my own experiences, is a viable competitive option that rewards sequencing skill and combat math, but it's beatable with sweepers. I can't wait to see what decks the Regional Championship competitors will bring and how the metagame will develop in the coming weeks.

As previously mentioned, the cycle starts this weekend with Regional Championships in five different regions, and the U.S. Regional Championship will be streamed live on the DreamHackMagic channel, with commentary by Corey Baumeister, Mani Davoudi, Riley Knight, and Martin Juza. Coverage starts at 10 a.m. PT / 1 p.m. ET / 7 p.m. CET on Saturday and at 8:30 a.m. PT / 11:30 a.m. ET / 5:30 p.m. CET on Sunday!

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